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The Key to Understanding Productive Struggle in Games

What Exactly is Productive Struggle?

Productive struggle is the process of effortful learning that develops grit and creative problem solving. 

Students are often tasked with working through new assessments and find themselves overcome with feelings of frustration and doubt after failing to grasp new concepts right away. If the math material is only taught one way, they’re not given an opportunity to understand where the mistakes are being made through trial and error. 

ST Math flips this approach entirely, giving students a chance to visualize the math and challenge their brain. With game-based learning, students’ intrinsic motivation and love for play can lead them toward complex problem solving.

Gameplay With a Purpose

Take a look at a few ST Math games below, and see for yourself how trial and error allots students the opportunity to further develop their conceptual understanding.

Students Want to Be Confident

Building confidence is key in truly excelling in any particular activity or skill. Confidence and enthusiasm can often be infectious. Seeing one student break through that wall they've found themselves stuck at for so long on a particular subject is rewarding enough, but knowing an entire classroom is on the cusp is even more exciting. Mitch Chatz, Principal of Malboro Elementary School, was able to see students persevere through gameplay and develop confidence after being challenged.

It's all about being able to productively struggle through [problems] and really walk that line, working hard toward something, and maybe not getting it, and getting a little bit frustrated, and as soon as they are able to work through it, they get this great feeling.

Mitch Chatz, Principal, Malboro Elementary School, Malboro Township Schools

It’s in those moments of a big breakthrough, or feeling that sense of “AH HA!” that students not only become confident moving forward, but feel excited too! Being that 97% of 2- to 17-year-olds play video games, it's unlikely this model is going anywhere.

Why Is This Important?

As a kid, I played my fair share of video games, and the one that will always stick out most is Super Mario 64. I spent more hours than I'm proud to admit trying to collect all the gold stars. Mario lost multiple lives and I certainly found myself doubting I'd ever beat the game, but I continued to learn what spots to avoid and how to time everything out. The game stayed the same, but I grew and changed. My abundance of mistakes made winning moves possible, and with a healthy amount of perseverance, I was able to beat the game and free Princess Peach from the castle.

Unfortunately, this is not the experience that many students have when they sit down in a math classroom. They start with the notion that they can't get it, they don't understand it, and they just "aren't a math person." Society, at large, feeds into this narrativenow more than ever with many students still learning from home with a lack of adequate resources.

As an education community, there is a lot we can continue learn from a student's willingness to struggle and persevere in video games that can be applied in the classroom and in the distance learning environment.

Further Reading:

Matt Kennedy

About the Author

Matt Kennedy was the Marketing Specialist at MIND Research Institute. A Dallas native, and former athlete, he is passionate about storytelling and seeing students grow beyond what they thought possible.


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